With the best of intentions, to call an organization a Democracy is an abuse of the term, unless of course, the organization has been structured and functions on strict democratic principles. But what are these principles? Strictly speaking, in a democracy, all eligible members vote because power is completely distributed; laws and regulations are agreed etc. Sure, you can have a democratic organization on those principles, but it rarely fits the concept of the firm, as we know it.
Business organizations are not democracies. We should reserve the term for the Polis, for the political, civic arena. People who, I repeat, with the best of intentions, use the word ‘democracy’ as an aspiration for a business organization, usually mean employee participation, employee voice, freedom of that voice, good representation to management etc. They want to inject a democratic flavour, ‘democratic principles’, synonymous with a healthy and participative environment. All this is very noble, but it does not make the organization a democracy.
Some people go further and describe the attributes of a democratic (business) organization. Amongst those: having a purpose, accountability, transparency, integrity, dialogue etc. I call this a Well Managed Organization.
Democracy, ‘the worst form of government except for all other forms that have been tried’ (Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 1947) must remain in the socio-political arena. Even here, we could count in great numbers the institutions that, strictly speaking, are not democracies and form the fabric of a given society. Democracy is a form of civil government, not a form of corporate government (unless you chose this, of course).
To use terms such as ‘democracy’ or ‘being democratic’ in a loose way may inspire comfort, may legitimize noble goals of people participation, but may also be very misleading. By borrowing the language from the Polis, we may think that we add credibility to Employee Engagement. We don’t. What we add is a distraction.